“The power rankings, records and all historical markers of how good a league is are telling us that this is the best the league has ever been.”
15 games later at a record of 10-5, Ball State Men’s Basketball head coach James Whitford believes the Mid-American Conference has reached a historical peak. With eight teams in the top 150 in the nation and two in the top 75, the MAC has raised some eyebrows.
“A lot of us watch the other teams in our conference,” senior center Trey Moses said. “You see teams like Buffalo and Toledo who are performing well, and we’re excited for the competition. This is why we play.”
Coming off a strong non-conference campaign seeing the Cardinals go 9-4 and 4-0 at home, the team saw contribution from the entire roster. The Cardinal bench has knocked down 242 points this season including a career-high and team-leading 19-point performance from redshirt junior guard Josh Thompson against Delaware State.
“It’s fun to see a guy like Josh have a performance like that,” Moses said. “His first year, he didn’t have a role guys wanted and was a practice player, but he got a chance last year and performed well. Now he’s getting every chance that he deserves. It’s great to have teammates like that who don’t complain whether they play or not.”
With players outside of the starting five showing dependability, the Cardinals are looking to use that as an advantage going forward. With redshirt sophomore forward Brachen Hazen out with a back injury and sophomore guard Ishmael El-Amin out with a wrist injury, the team is leaning on the bench to continue performing at a high caliber.
“It’s a long season where somebody goes down and we need the next guy to step in,” Whitford said. “We’re going through that right now with Brachen being out and Ish. We need all that depth we can get.”
From the non-conference slate, the team consistently references its matchups against Alabama and Evansville as learning points. The Cardinals fell to the Crimson Tide 79-61 in the Charleston Classic, allowing 34 points in the first half. They lost to the Purple Aces 89-77 after being outscored 52-32 in the second half. Since the Evansville loss, the Cardinals have won four of their last five.
“Alabama and Evansville were two games that stood out to me,” Thompson said. “Those weren’t our best games. Evansville in the second half we played pretty terrible, and we’ve been playing really good since then.”
Going into league play, Whitford said the balance of the conference is what makes the MAC so competitive. The Cardinals’ next three matchups against Ohio, Bowling Green and Central Michigan have seen each team have success in the past or currently. Ohio has gone to the NCAA Tournament twice in the last 10 years, Bowling Green has a victory over MAC favorite Kent State and Central Michigan only has two losses on the season.
“There are no programs that are haves and have nots,” Whitford said. “Resources and traditions are pretty balanced top to bottom. You don’t see that in every league. My time in the league, one team has been at the top at one point or another.”
With the Cardinals taking down a top-50 team in Toledo to start conference play, the team believes other MAC squads can expect a strong sense of unity from the Cardinals this season.
“Other MAC teams should expect a gritty team that moves the ball really well and shares,” Thompson said. “We play like one team and one unit.”
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